The playoff picture is coming into focus, and by the end of Tuesday night we may have a better picture. Or, we may not. But we’ll know a few more things about how the picture will clear up. Trust me, that makes sense.
Here are the games that matter Tuesday night.
Phoenix at Utah: This is for the eighth seed in the West. And the right to get steamrolled by the Spurs. But still, you get your ticket punched for the dance. If Utah wins this game they are in. If Phoenix wins the two teams are tied but the Suns will have the tiebreaker — their magic number will be one and either they will have to beat the Spurs Wednesday or they need the Trail Blazers to beat the Jazz on Thursday.
Phoenix has won both meetings this season, but the Jazz are a much better home than road team. Steve Nash owned the Jazz on the pick-and-roll last meeting, the Jazz need to not let him control and dictate the flow.
Clippers at Hawks: Both teams need this win. For the visiting Clippers, if they win they are at least the four seed — which gives them home court in what would be the best first round series in either conference against the Grizzlies. A Clippers win also keeps their chances of getting the three seed and avoiding Memphis all together alive — they would need to beat the Knicks Wednesday and have the Lakers lose to the Kings Thursday. Not likely, but a win keeps that door open.
The Hawks are playing the Celtics in the first round, that is set. Right now the Hawks have a one-game lead for home court in that series (it doesn’t matter that the Celtics are the higher seed for wining their division) but the Celtics have the tiebreaker. A win doesn’t lock the Hawks into home court, but it could if Boston were to lose.
Heat at Celtics: I feel sorry for whoever paid good money for this game, because both teams will be resting a lot of key players — LeBron James, Ray Allen and the list will grow by gametime. This game means nothing to the Heat. For Boston it’s about home court. As mentioned above the Hawks and Celtics will play in the first round, right now the Hawks are one game up and would have home court. Boston has the tiebreak so if they win out they force the Hawks to win out to keep home court.
However, Doc Rivers has already said health matters more than home court. So expect to see your favorite Celtics reserves get big minutes.
The Lakers must drop two players before the regular season. The four primary candidates:
- Nick Young, the only one of the four with a guaranteed salary. There was talk of waiving him anyway, but he has seemingly played his way onto the team in the preseason.
- Yi Jianlian, who has the highest salary of the group. His partially guaranteed, incentive-laden contract makes him an intriguing trade chip.
- Thomas Robinson, the youngest of the bunch. The 25-year-old might be the best center in a few years of anyone on the Lakers’ roster.
- Metta World Peace, the oldest player on the team. He turns 37 next month and hasn’t been productive in years.
The Lakers face one tough choice. Waiving World Peace should be the easy one – and it seems they know it.
Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.
If the Lakers want to keep World Peace to mentor young players, assistant coach is the right role for him. It’s not worth wasting a roster spot on someone who’s no longer NBA caliber.
World Peace wants to keep playing, and he could lobby other teams. I’d be surprised if he gets another NBA contract, but I was also surprised the Lakers signed him the last two years.
More likely, World Peace must decide between being a Lakers assistant and playing overseas again.
The Heat and Kings reportedly discussed a trade that would send Goran Dragic to Sacramento for Rudy Gay and Darren Collison.
Could such a deal happen?
Miami is clearly sending out word from its end: No.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
Dragic on Erik Spoelstra, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:
“He just said those rumors, they’re not true.”
Reminder: Mario Chalmers said the Heat told him they would keep him shortly before they traded him.
Teams get the most from players when they’re happy, and job security pleases most people. So, teams often assure players they won’t be traded. If a team violates that trust by dealing a player anyway… that’s no longer the team’s problem. The player is fuming elsewhere.
I don’t know whether the Heat will trade Dragic this season. Their assurances and signals mean something, but only so much.
I do know Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and has a long-term contract that makes little sense on a rebuilding team.
The Cavaliers should be fine at point guard in games that matter.
Kyrie Irving is an excellent starter. When Irving rests, LeBron James – in addition to his minutes at forward – can serve as primary ball-handler with an extra wing on the floor.
But Cleveland wants to limit LeBron’s and Irving’s playing time to preserve them for another long playoff run, which means finding a more traditional backup point guard for the regular season.
The Cavs have Kay Felder, but the transition from the Horizon League to the NBA is a difficult one for anyone, let alone a 5-foot-9 rookie who was drafted No. 54 overall. Mo Williams is somewhere between injured and retired. They might like to add Mario Chalmers, but he’s not healthy enough yet.
Another option: Trade.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:
The Cavaliers are pursuing a trade to acquire a backup point guard and are hoping to make a deal before the season starts Tuesday, sources told cleveland.com.
The Cavs are in advanced discussions with at least one club, according to a source, and could make one or multiple trades to fill the one, glaring need on a team otherwise built to defend its 2016 championship.
Whom are the Cavaliers targeting? Your guess is as good as mine.
Whom could they trade? That’s much easier to predict, but far from certain. Shumpert could be the odd man out, especially since J.R. Smith re-signed. Cleveland will probably drop one of Jordan McRae, Dahntay Jones or John Holland before the regular season, but I doubt any of those three would return much. The Cavs also have multiple trade exceptions and draft picks, though they have already dealt some picks.
This situation was predictable as soon as the Cavaliers let Matthew Dellavedova leave for Milwaukee. Did they not see it coming, or do they have an ace up their sleeve at the last minute?
Anthony Davis missed a chunk of the preseason after spraining his ankle in a game against the Rockets during the league’s tour of China. He was considered questionable to return for opening night.
He came back faster than that, in time for New Orleans’ final preseason game Thursday night — and he looked good doing it. Very good.
Davis had 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists’ in the Pelicans’ 114-111 overtime loss to Orlando. He was red hot from the start as he scored 16 points in nine minutes of the first quarter.
This is a good sign for the Pelicans, who are going to need Davis (and rookie Buddy Hield) to carry the scoring for the team to start the season as they are without Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans for an extended period.